Former FBI director, James B. Comey, completed his much anticipated, public testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in the ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election today. A private session is currently underway, allowing for directed questions, involving classified information.
Comey released his opening remarks to the press yesterday, and neither Democrats, Republicans nor fence sitters were satisfied. Statements by Comey that he felt “uncomfortable” while meeting privately with Trump weren’t detailed enough to label as collusion or obstruction, yet damning in his opinion of what he felt had taken place behind closed doors.
The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away. My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.
Under oath, Comey offered different remarks than those published yesterday, instead opting for an opportunity to admit surprise at his firing, anger at the circumstances before termination, and the negative perception Americans may perceive of the agency. Comey also praised Robert Mueller and assured that “he will turn over every rock” in pursuit of the truth.
Committee Chairman Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) opened question and answer sessions crafting an outline for the committee to follow and decisively absolving Trump of any participation in Russia’s attempt to disrupt the 2016 election. His implied directive to remain non-partisan went out the window as Vice Chair Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) was second on the docket. Warner followed with his own version of Comey’s statement, paraphrasing and posturing his opinion to reflect a liberal narrative and taking a swipe at Trump, who is no doubt ready to hit ‘send’ on a tweet or two, by stating the hearing “it’s not a witch hunt; it’s not fake news.” Throughout his allotted twelve-minute timeline, Warner hammered the private meetings, the resulting memorandums, and an attitude of pressure on FBI to ‘be loyal” to the President.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) peppered the eternally calm Comey about why he felt it necessary to immediately release a private conversation to the media through a third party, upon learning of his termination. Comey unashamedly, and stone-faced, replied, “I felt it necessary as a private citizen.”
Question after question in a polite, almost reverent environment, yielded no smoking gun. There were a few absolutes determined; high confidence from the entire Intel community that Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. election, although assuredly, did not affect the outcome, and, the infamous New York Times story, on February 14, Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence was unequivocally false, and President Trump has not been personally under investigation, ever, with regards to Russia.
At times, there were instances of comic relief. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) inquiring about a private dinner with Trump at the White House, asked if Comey regretted accepting the invitation. Comey explained, “I had to break a date with my wife, who I enjoy spending time with, so in retrospect…” and that ended his answer. The committee and the galley twittered appreciatively.
Unless the private session renders a mass of indisputable evidence, there appears to be a great lack of evidence in which to link President Trump to any serious wrongdoing. He did not demand loyalty. Rather, he requested loyalty and was assured by Comey he would have “honest loyalty.” Timelines and terminology aside, it would be a stretch to conclude that a crime was committed. Unfortunately for his detractors, wishes haven’t yet resulted in facts.
As the investigation into Russian interference with the U.S. government moves forward spearheaded by newly appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller, the central question has become whether he will have complete independence. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) pointedly asked Comey if he had “any doubt that this committee can carry out an investigation parallel with the special counsel?” Comey replied, “Mueller wouldn’t have accepted the job if he felt he didn’t have complete independence,” but that he is an honorable, honest man who will be an asset moving forward.
And the beat goes on…
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